While most students don't start giving serious consideration to career paths until high school, a new program at Lakeside and Evans middle schools is giving those pupils a head start.
At those schools, career connections classes have replaced the family and consumer sciences programs in sixth through eighth grades.
Those classes offer students an opportunity to explore careers best suited to their talents, said school system Director of Middle School Learning Sharon Carson.
"At the sixth-grade level, their focus is primarily on who they are," she said. "It's about positive self-image, good study habits, discussing appropriate behavior, as well as discussing good decision making and goal setting. They'll also do initial career assessment research."
Starting as sixth-graders, students will keep portfolios of their career exploration that they will carry with them to high school.
"In seventh grade, they get deeper into the career discovery process," Carson said. "They learn how to interview and match their skills and interests to possible careers.
"That really crystallizes in eighth grade when they're starting to build their plan and look at what courses they'll need to pursue the career that they want."
Though it seems premature to start pupils that age on a career path, Carson said research shows pupils need to learn about future jobs at even younger ages.
"We need to be doing this at elementary schools in terms of their understanding of what careers are out there," she said. "It's been a criticism that our kids are not prepared to make decisions on careers. When they get to the high schools, they have no clue as to what they should be studying."
The new program was prompted by the passage of state House Bill 400, also called the Bridge Bill, in 2009. The Bridge Bill mandates that pupils receive career exploration courses, but offered no definite timeline on when such instruction starts.
Carson said she and other middle school administrators will be following the progress of the career connections classes closely at Evans Middle and Lakeside Middle. However, Carson said she didn't know when other county middle schools might follow suit.
"They need to be exploring and they need to be exposed," she said. "The classes are meant to help them see broader about what they can do."